McDonald's Steps Up Sustainable Fish Message in Time for Lent

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McDonald's Pollock to Pollock
McDonald's Pollock to Pollock Credit: Bernstein-Rein for McDonald's

McDonald's is not changing its Filet-O-Fish recipe, but it is tinkering with its marketing to emphasize sustainable fishing practices as the busiest season for the fried fish is about to begin.

Two new commercials and an upcoming digital video showcase the wild-caught Alaskan pollock used in the sandwich.

The Filet-O-Fish is available year-round, but the Lenten season, which this year begins March 1, is its biggest selling time. About 25% of all Filet-O-Fish sandwiches are sold during Lent, McDonald's said.

The fish used in the sandwich is sustainably sourced and since 2013 it has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Still, it has faced some criticism from people who argue the fish may not be as environmentally-friendly as it sounds.

"In today's day and age people want to know what's going in their food [and] where is it coming from," said Dan Coudreaut, McDonald's executive chef and VP-culinary innovation.

This year marks the 55th anniversary of the Filet-O-Fish, which Cincinnati franchisee Lou Groen came up with in 1962 as an alternative for Catholic customers who abstained from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. In 1965, it was the first addition to the original McDonald's menu.

The bun for the sandwich, along with other McDonald's buns, was updated last year to replace high fructose corn syrup with sugar. Otherwise, the national recipe remains the same. Some Maryland restaurants have offered an Old Bay-seasoned tartar sauce, but it does not appear to be on the menu this year.

A 15-second commercial shows the story of Davis, a guy from Pollock, South Dakota, who enjoys fishing, going to the Gulf of Alaska to see how McDonald's fish is caught by Trident Seafood.

In a longer "What's Cooking" digital video, which McDonald's plans to run beginning March 1, Mr. Coudreaut speaks with the captain of Trident's Viking Explorer, Elmer Loose. Shooting the video was the first time Mr. Coudreaut saw the McDonald's supplier's fishing process.

"The biggest twist here is shining a light and a camera on some of our suppliers that maybe our guests don't really know about," Mr. Coudreaut said. "It's a story that I don't think a lot of people think about when they think about McDonald's. I don't think they know the infrastructure and people, the thousands of people that get the food ready."

Arby's is adding fish to its $10 Meat Mountain sandwich during March by including a piece of wild-caught Alaskan Pollock for customers who ask for it
Arby's is adding fish to its $10 Meat Mountain sandwich during March by including a piece of wild-caught Alaskan Pollock for customers who ask for it Credit: Arby's

McDonald's, of course, is not the only chain highlight its fish products for Lent. Arby's is having a bit of fun with the fried fish it is serving for a limited time by adding its wild-caught Alaskan pollock to its $10 Meat Mountain sandwich during March for customers who ask for the "secret menu" item "Denali-style." White Castle even brought McDonald's into its marketing by taking out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune inviting McDonald's headquarters staff to try its Seafood Crab Cake Sliders for free.

The 15-second and 30-second McDonald's TV spots come from Kansas City-based agency Bernstein-Rein and are available to be used by various local markets, rather than running as a national campaign. The spots are Bernstein-Rein's first Filet-O-Fish work to focus on a sustainability message, said Executive Creative Director Lara Wyckoff.

The upcoming "What's Cooking" digital video comes from Purple Strategies.

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